Roman Arbisi’s review published on Letterboxd:
From the assembly line that has brought us 20 of the world’s most beloved films, comes their first female centric film, Captain Marvel. Starring Brie Larson (Carol Danvers), a de-aged Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), and a surprisingly good Ben Mendelsohn (Talos) as three of the film’s many characters. The script is penned by Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden, Nicole Perlman, and Meg LeFauve, and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.
Unfortunately, the road to Captain Marvel has been bumpy. From it’s less than stellar marketing campaign, to America’s worst taking words from it’s stars out of context and weaponizing them. As a non-fan of the MCU that I am, the toxicity surrounding this film got me ready to hope this was a Marvel entry that I would love. With a defeated sigh, Captain Marvel never came close to that mark, as Marvel’s winning formula falls flat once again.
This movie begins and ends with Carol Danvers, and the biggest question going in was, “Can Brie Larson be convincing?” Surprisingly, she was a lot better than the trailers made her out to be. Brie is an actress that always works better on a smaller scale with more intimate projects. She has the talent, but the blockbuster field has never been kind to her. She doesn’t really bring anything electric or new to the genre here, and the physicality is pretty convincing, but all of the issues surrounding Carol stem from the script. Which I’m not ready to touch on yet, so bookmark that.
The rest of the cast is quite strong and they provide (much needed) support to the film. Sam Jackson is the biggest takeaway here, although the script doesn’t really add anything new to the character. Ben Mendelsohn has discovered quite a career as the next bad guy in your new favorite blockbuster, but this is definitely his best work since Netflix’s Bloodline. He worked with directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden before on Mississippi Grind, and that relationship definitely grew. Despite being covered in some (great) make-up most of the time, the personality, motives, and backstory of Talos flourished with Ben in the role. The treatment of characters has always been a staple of the Marvel brand, and Captain Marvel really isn’t much different in that department.
As you’ve probably already predicted from the score, that’s about as much as there is to say positively about Captain Marvel, outside of a few glimmers only worth mentioning in passing.
Strangely, despite not attempting to follow an origin story beat for beat early on, it becomes readily apparent that it’s the exact same beaten path as before. There isn’t anything non-linear here as scenes from the past are just memories or dreams, and they all happen within the throughline of the narrative. It’s an origin story as it lives and breathes, just written very poorly, and visualized almost on the same level. There’s a level of ambitiousness to it that clearly seems suppressed by the fact that it’s apart of a larger universe, because you just can’t forget to tuck away those nifty easter eggs.
Structurally, Captain Marvel is 90 minutes of exposition, and 30 minutes of conclusion. It’s a wave we’ve seen Marvel ride before, and here the characters build the world and explain information until it’s time to power up and beat the bad guys. Poorly choreographed and laid out action scenes are sprinkled in between, but they only ever feel like an obligation because it’s a blockbuster. It never paves its way to a point where it organically belongs within the narrative, and it only becomes more frustrating when it’s main character lacks proper characterization.
In a universe that prides itself on well thought out characters that exist beyond ideas and as living, breathing, fictional people, Carol is the embodiment of the worst versions of the universe’s characters. She’s not a terrible person, but she only exists in this film as a concept and not as a multi-dimensional character. Most of her lines are snarky quips that are supposedly the signal to a character within the framework of Carol, but snappy one-liners bouncing off of Fury isn’t proper characterization. We’re introduced to ideas and emotions within or around Carol, but we don’t know anything about her likes, dislikes, passions, and personality to make her a full-fledged likable character. She isn’t unlikable, she isn’t likable either, and it’s why Larson’s performance seems like such a bright spot, because she’s selling nothing, and she sells it well.
All in all, Captain Marvel is just a lazy movie. The cast works in selling a scatterbrained script, that it’s directing duo visualizes in a movie that actually has a surprising sense of production value (a rarity for the MCU as of late) for the characters to live within. At this point, I don’t think there’s any excuse for the 21st film in a franchise to lack personality like it does here. It tries to convince us that it’s different from the rest, but all it does is dump information scene after scene to expand the universe, and not it’s character. Nothing feels earned, triumphant, or rewarding for Carol’s arc because she doesn’t really have one. She visualizes a revelation, and is then able to unleash her wrath and fury because of course she can. This film painfully retreads a plot device straight from Thor: Ragnarok, it injects 90s music here and there for no discernable reason (because it’s SO 90s, but the movie doesn’t even toy around with any identity to its setting anyways), the action is less than spectacular, and there isn’t anything of outstanding value here worth rallying behind. If you’re a fan of this universe it has some cool tie-ins and overly egregious set-up to prep you for what you really want, and if you’re not a fan, then Captain Marvel perfectly embodies some of the worst of what cinematic universe films can be. Marvel’s sights are on the endgame, literally, and Captain Marvel suffers greatly for that, because it is anything but marvelous.
Captain Marvel gets a 33/100